Back to earth.
High winds and grey skies suggested that the usual water haunts would not offer the best opportunities. Instead, I went into Wellington, to Upper Cuba Street. This is often referred to as the Bohemian part of Wellington, and is much loved by many of the younger generation, but rarely visited by many of the more conservative persuasion such as me.
In some ways, this is a pity as there is some fascinating architecture up there, and an ever diminishing selection of scruffy old buildings unlikely to withstand serious earthquakes. At one stage I worked in an older building in Willeston Street, opposite the big black building on the corner of Willis St and Lambton Quay. Back then the big black building was hole in the ground and some rusting steel girders. The old CML building, where I worked, had very uneven wooden floors and the kind of toilets where an overhead cistern had a long chain with a wooden knob … and there was no heating. It was the least pleasant working environment I ever had, so forgive me if I don’t get misty eyed over some of our alleged “treasures”.
Anyway, back to the top end of town. The first building that grabbed my attention was the CQ hotel on Cuba Street. Formerly the “People’s Palace” run by the Salvation Army, it was seismically strengthened in 1985 and reborn as the Trekker’s hotel aimed at the backpacker market. Ten years later, despite the earlier rebuild it again fell short of the revised earthquake codes and was rebuilt yet again, to emerge this time as the hotel that is now known as the CQ hotel. Interior photos show that despite the historic facade, it now looks like a comfortable place to stay.
Looking up the street to where Webb Street crosses at the top, most of the buildings are progressively smaller and less impressive, but still much loved by many. The more modern building on the right is the current headquarters of the Salvation Army. Happily New Zealand has not adopted the awful habit of referring to them as “Salvos”.
Walking down towards the pedestrian only precinct, the little restaurant that was once “Le Normandie“, and was the most elegant and expensive French restaurant in the city has undergone yet another change of ownership and name to become a steakhouse. At least one website suggests that even this has now closed. I guess times and tastes have changed. It seems to be a fact of life that restaurants have a lifespan of about five years. It’s a very short time in which to recover the very serious cost outlays of a major refurbishment.
In Cuba Mall itself, there are restaurants and pubs, and New Zealand’s anti-smoking laws mean that even in unpleasant weather there are people at the outside tables. The mall has a number of places where people pause, meet, talk and go about their business.
At the very heart of Cuba Mall is the bucket fountain. In theory, water trickles from the top into a bucket. When the water reaches a certain level in each bucket, it tips its load into the bucket below. In due course that too tips and so on. In practice the pivots often bind, buckets sometimes tip and sometimes don’t and the result is gloriously chaotic and results in many unsuspecting tourists getting wet. Nevertheless it is a much loved feature of the city.
That’s my visit to Cuba St.